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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op 1 (1891/1919) [25:37]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op 18 (1897) [32:42]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Antonio Pappano
rec. Philharmonie, Berlin, June 2005
EMI CLASSICS 5181842 [58:30]

Experience Classicsonline

I'd somehow missed these performances on their first, full-priced go-round, and I'm glad to have caught this F-sharp minor now. The first movement has its overtly flashy moments, but Leif Ove Andsnes, unlike Mikhail Pletnev in his uninvolved CfP account, knows that it can't just be a virtuoso exercise. Andsnes keeps even the busiest passages - like the disturbed figurations under the vaguely undulating second theme in the orchestra - so intelligently layered, so purposefully directed, that you almost forget how hard it is just to play what's there. The cadenza is a full-blooded musical statement, with the faster notes registering as reflections of the deep, solid chords. Andsnes's handling of the other movements is similarly perceptive. The Andante is beguilingly expressive, with ear-catching pianos; the finale's waltz theme has both rhythmic buoyancy and tonal weight.
Antonio Pappano, like Pletnev's Libor Pešek an active collaborator, elicits a nice variety of colors and textures from the orchestra. He has a marked feeling for expressive nuance: note the ebb and flow of the cello counter-melodies in the first movement, and the "soft" landing at the Andante's first expansive climax. The warm Berlin strings movingly shape the finale's second theme, with its unexpected harmonic and melodic turns. The horns sing out firmly; the whirling woodwind squibs are given their head. The tuttis are full-blooded and alert: the turbulent climax at 3:23 of the first movement hurtles forward. The finale begins with bracing rhythmic address.
The C minor, recorded in performance, is similarly musical and persuasive, benefiting from more of Andsnes's distinctive shapings and voicings - I'd never before felt the piano's "chordal counterpoint" to the cello line at 2:30 of the first movement, for example. Sadly, the orchestral contribution here isn't equally inspired. I imagine that the Berliners play the score more regularly than its less familiar companion, and here, perhaps, they've reverted somewhat to the "default" settings routined in their fingers and lungs. Granted, the Berlin Philharmonic's default is hardly bad, even if the Karajan influence persists in some overly reined-in string melodies, and in the oozy textures of the finale's climax. The playing is often beautiful, but only intermittently glowing. Only the finale's taut start rises above the conventional.
Some of the orchestral climaxes have a hint of "digital edge"; otherwise the sound is excellent, reproducing both piano and orchestra with depth. Endorsed then, with reservations as noted. In the C minor concerto, Ashkenazy's second recording, with Previn and the LSO (Decca), remains the most thrilling in comparatively modern sound.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.
see also review by Jonathan Woolf




























































































































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